Tense II: The Morpheme -RU/U

第225課: Tense II: The Morpheme -RU/U

The morpheme -RU/U is one of the most fundamental morphemes in the Japanese language. Although it manifests differently depending on the part of speech, its functions remain depending on the semantic and syntactic conditions of the sentence.

In its basic understanding, the -RU/U form is thought of as being the non-past tense marker of Japanese. Although it is not limited to this interpretation, it can account for any usage in which it corresponds to either the present tense or future tense of English.

In this lesson, we will study the various usages of -RU/U form as well as learn how some of these usages overlap with -TA and -TE IRU. Before continuing, if you have not read through the previous lesson on -TA, please go back and read it first.

-RU/U Morphology

In Japanese, the -RU/U form is typically simply referred to as the ルけい. It is a linguistic yet colloquial term for the terminal form (終止形しゅうしけい) /attributive form (連体形れんたいけい). Because the latter terms are meant only to indicate morphology in relation to word order, we’ll stick to calling this the “-RU/U form” for the purposes of this discussion.  

After the root of any conjugatable speech is a morpheme that forms the -RU/U form. For Ichidan verbs (一段動詞いちだんどうし), the morpheme is most easily identified because it happens to be –ru which attaches to the stem of these verbs. For Godan Verbs (五段動詞ごだんどうし), the morpheme manifests as –u, which attaches to the consonant-ending stems that these verbs have. For adjectives, the morpheme manifests as –i, –shii, or –jii. For the copula, because it is a contraction of である, it is appropriate to treat da as a whole to be the morpheme. 

-RU/U: Present, Future, & Past


In English, the present tense expresses an action that is ongoing or habitually performed, or a state that currently and/or generally exists. -RU/U also expresses all these functions. However, it’s first important to understand how flexible even the concept of “now” can be in both English and Japanese. Take for example the following sentences:

i. My boyfriend just got home now. → 彼氏が今帰ったところだ。
ii. My boyfriend is coming home now. → 彼氏が今帰っているところだ。
iii. My boyfriend will come home now. → 彼氏が今帰る(ところだ)ね。
iv. My boyfriend is home now. → 彼氏がもう帰っている。

We associate “now” with the present, but as these examples demonstrate, it is not fixated solely to the present tense. This is analogous to how the -RU/U form functions. These examples also scratch at the surface of how complex the endings -RU/U, -TA, and -TE IRU can be. For instance, -TE IRU can both denote the present continuous/progressive form like in ii. and the present progressive perfect form like in iv. In iii., the act of “coming home” is perceived to just be starting, which is in contrast to the continued ongoing state implied in ii.   

1. The most fundamental usage of the -RU/U form is to show present state. Existential verbs, adjectives, and adjectival nouns are quintessential here. Present states may very well be ongoing. For instance, in Ex. 5, the existence of people who want to quit their jobs is a present state. The act of wanting to quit is an ongoing state that is marked with -TE IRU. This emphasizes duration of a continued ongoing state. When the “continued” aspect of an ongoing action is not implied, however, -RU/U should be used instead.

1. にはが3本ある。
There are three trees in the (court)yard.

2. 北海道ほっかいどう生息地せいそくちにするかめもいる。
There are also turtles who have Hokkaido as their habitat.

3. あやちゃんのふく、めっちゃかわいい。
Aya-chan’s clothes, they’re so cute.

4. これが最高さいこう(だ)!
This is the best!

Grammar Note: Even when the copula is omitted, the -RU/U morpheme is still present grammatically.

5. 仕事しごとめたがっている人がたくさんいる。
There are lots of people who want to quit their jobs.

6. なんでもケチをつけたがるひといだ心理しんりとはなに か。
What is the mentality that people harbor who want to find fault in everything?

7. 猛烈もうれつかぜいたとられ{ます・ています}。
It is believed that there was fierce wind.

2. In the same vein as Usage 1, the -RU/U form may also denote a present psychological state. This is frequently employed with verbal/adjectival expressions of emotion.

8. 本当ほんとうにむかつくわ。
It really ticks me off.

9. はらつ。
This makes me mad.

10. 鳥肌とりはだつ。
This gives me goosebumps.

11. 気持きもわるい。
This is disgusting/unpleasant.

12. こわい。
I’m scared.

3. Some verbs are used in utterances whose implications are instantaneous with said utterance. These instances create what is known as the “utterance present (発言現在はつげんげんざい).

13. ちかいます。
I vow.

14. ご冥福めいふくをおいのりします。
I pray for his/her/their soul(s).

15. 二人ふたりしあわせをねがいます。
I wish for the two’s happiness.

16. 約束やくそくする!
I promise!

4. Sometimes, as if we’re narrating to ourselves, or perhaps when we are narrating, the -RU/U form is used similarly to that of an infinitive to describe what is happening/is to happen in front of the speaker’s/one’s eyes. Of course, if the action can’t literally be seen with the eyes, this discrepancy doesn’t stop this usage from being valid.

Grammar Note: An infinitive is the basic form of verb which has no inflection binding it to a particular subject and/or tense, and this too is a function of the -RU/U form.

17. あめる。
Rain falls (in front of my eyes).

18. 韓国料理かんこくりょうりくす。
Consuming Korean cuisine.

19. やいばさる。
The blade pierces.

20. いきまる。
My breath stops.

5. Habitual repetition is another facet of a person’s current state. -TE IRU can similarly be used to denote what one “always does,” but it must be used with adverbs of frequency to establish this meaning. This is so that it can show present habitual action rather than an ongoing action. Even so, it doesn’t denote an inherent habitualness. The -RU/U form need not have such adverbs for this meaning to be had. However, it conversely becomes far more open ended in interpretation without words like “always” or “every day.” It could be interpreted as future intent without context guiding the listener to think habitual action.

Whenever the speaker feels a need to emphasize his current habit, especially when criticized for not doing something, the use of -TE IRU becomes imperative. Habitual statements with -RU/U are most suitable in neutral situations where there is no need to emphasize one’s current habit(s).

Grammar Note: This usage may also be used in the second and third person in question form.

21. いつも零時れいじます。
I always go to sleep at midnight.

22. わたし食後しょくごみがきます。
I brush my teeth after eating.
I will brush my teeth after eating (from now on).

23. 毎朝まいあさシャワーをびます。
I take a shower every morning.

24. 毎週教会まいしゅうきょうかいきますか。
Do you go to church every week?

25a. わたし毎日公園まいにちこうえん散歩さんぽします。
25b. わたし毎日公園まいにちこうえん散歩さんぽしています。
I walk the park every day. (25a)
I’m walking the park every day. (25b)

26. きみがいると、いつもわらえてる。
I’m always able to laugh when you’re here (with me).

27. ひとはなしている途中とちゅうで、なにをしたかったのかわすれてしまうことはありませんか。
While talking to someone, do you ever forget what you wanted to talk about?

6. Yet another nuance that falls under the umbrella of current state is denoting a characteristic and/or general truth. However, a general truth need not literally be a current state. It could be a situation that regularly occurs under certain conditions.

28. カモメはおも水辺みずべみます。
Seagulls mainly live at waterfronts.

29. 中国語ちゅうごくごってむずかしい。
Chinese is difficult.

30. きみはよくしゃべるね。
You sure talk a lot.

31. 毛虫けむしちょうわります。
Caterpillars become butterflies.

32. 一般人いっぱんじんひところすと逮捕たいほされます。
When ordinary person murders someone, he gets arrested.

33. 日本にほん地震じしんおおいところだ。
Japan is a place where there are many earthquakes.

34. 地震じしんはプレートがもともどろうとするときに起こります。
Earthquakes occur when plates try to return to their original positions.


7. The future tense in English denotes an action/state that has not yet happened. Even when it is used by itself with no other modal changes, -RU/U can indicate something that you are rather certain will occur in the future. 

35. もうすぐ消灯時間しょうとうじかんだ。
It’s almost lights-out.

36. 電気でんきえるね。
The lights will go off, ok?

37. 明日あした休日きゅうじつだ。
Tomorrow is a holiday.

38. かえ途中とちゅう銀行ぎんこうってください。
Please stop by the bank while you’re coming home.

39. きっと合格ごうかくするよ。
You’ll definitely pass.

8. -RU/U may show first-person intention and/or plan when used in the future tense. It must, though, be paired with a verb of volition (意志動詞). -RU/U may also simply provide information about what will happen in the future depending on the situation. In English, the -ing form or “going to…” pattern are frequently used for this.

Grammar Note: This usage may also be used in second person and third person in the form of a question. It may also be used in the affirmative in third person, but the -RU/U form must be paired with a modal change that incorporates a less direct tone. Lastly, when this usage is used in the affirmative in second person, it creates a command (See Usage 11).

40. 明日あすテキサスにちます。
I head out to Texas tomorrow.

41. 今夜こんや晩御飯ばんごはん外食がいしょくにする。
Tonight, I’m going to eat out for dinner.

42. 会社かいしゃめます。
I’m quitting/going to quit my job (at the company).

43. 私用しよう休暇きゅうかります。
I’m taking/going to take

44. わたし明日あすから1いっ週間京都しゅうかんきょうときます。
As of tomorrow, I will be going to Kyoto for a week.

45. はい、わたしきます。
Yes, I am the one going.

46. はい、消費税しょうひぜい来月らいげつから2にー%パーセントほどげられることになります。
Yes, as of next month, the consumers tax will be risen approximately two percent.

47. 何人なんにんますか。
How many people are coming?

48. このくるまがいくらならいますか。
How much would you buy this car for?

49. 台風たいふうさんごうは、九州きゅうしゅう南部なんぶ接近せっきんしていて、もなく上陸じょうりくする見込みこみです。
Typhoon No. 3 is approached the southern portion of Kyushu, and it is forecast to make landfall any moment.

9.With a rising intonation, -RU/U indicates surprise about a future event. In second person, it can show disbelief, rebuke, or scoffing toward a statement the speaker deems improbable. However, it is not limited to these sorts of negative nuances in second person. You can express surprise about a future event in first and second person.

Grammar Note: -RU/U may also indicate surprise about a present state. Unlike the -TA form, it doesn’t imply that the speaker should have known, and it doesn’t indicate the reality at hand as having been recognized in the past.

47. え、私が行く?
What, I’m going?

48. え、山田君がやる?冗談でしょう?
What, you’re going to do it, Yamada-kun? You’re joking, right?

49. あ、やってくれる?ありがとう!
Oh, you’re going to do it? Thank you!

50. 戦争せんそうわる?それはおそらくないだろう。
The war’s going to end? That’s probably impossible.

51. 今年中ことしじゅう首都直下地震しゅとちょっかじしんきます?
There’s going to be an earthquake directly hitting the Tokyo area within this year?

52. あ、そうだ!今日午後きょうごご3さん時半じはん会議かいぎがある。
Ah, that’s right! There’s a meeting at 3:30 PM today.

53. あ、あのひと鈴木すずきさんだ。
Ah, that person is Mr. Suzuki.


10. The -RU/U form may also be used to show step-by-step instructions. This is frequently used in recipes. The instructions are not necessarily directed at one particular person; however, commands can be made by using the -RU/U form (Usage 11).

54. あぶらをフライパンにれて、175ひゃくななじゅうごくらいになるまでにける。
Add cooking oil to the frying pan and heat until it is about 175 degrees.

55. なべかし、豆腐とうふくずれて、ざるにあげてみずる。
Boil water in the pot, break up the tofu, and drain in a strainer.

56. 調味料ちょうみりょうたまネギをくわえていため、たまごくわえてかるぜ、める。
Sauté upon adding spices and onion, add a beaten egg and lightly mix, and then turn off the heat.

57. 牛肉ぎゅうにくべやすいおおきさにり、片栗粉かたくりこをまぶす。
As for the beef, cut it into easy to eat sizes and then smear the beef with potato starch.

58. スキレットにごまあぶらうすくひいてにかけ、ごはんひろげてせる。
Lightly cover the skillet with sesame oil, add heat, and spread the rice on top.


11. When -RU/U is used to make a command, it does not have the same time constraint that -TA has. Although it implies that the listener better get to it–which is why it is often used by teachers, parents, or people with a clear higher status over someone else—it is not the case that it has to happen immediately for it to be grammatical.

59. さっさと片付かたづける。
Get to cleaning up.

60. 10じゅう秒後びょうごはしる。
Run in ten seconds.

This sentence would likely be said by a coach and/or someone who would be instructing you to do something. This sentence demonstrates how the “instruction” meaning of -RU/U derives from its sense of command. The pragmatic difference is that the “instructions” given in the -RU/U form are very frequently in polite speech. Even so, an instructor/knowledgeable person instructing is intrinsically higher in position than the listener learning from said individual.

61. すぐにべる!
Eat it now!

Sentence Note: Ex. 61 would most likely be said by a semi-strict parent.

62. 我々われわれ出発しゅっぱつする。
We’re departing.

Sentence Note: The use of first person plural allows for a rather subtle yet explicit means of getting others to act alongside oneself. The person saying this would be the leader of the group.

63. きみ明日あすから大阪おおさか出張しゅっちょう{する・だ}。
You will be going to Osaka on business starting tomorrow.

64. このおきゃくさんはきみ接待せったい{する・だ}。
You’ll be entertaining this patron.

65. いまだ!

Sentence Note: Ex. 65 can be used without imposing a sense of social hierarchy. However, the person stating it would still be taking the initiative to get others to act.

65. くんだ!

Grammar Note: Though not exactly the same, it is important to note that the -RU/U form is used with のだ・んだ instead of the -TA form. This is due to the time restriction placed on -TA form imperatives.


12. -RU/U need not always refer to non-past time. There are instances where it does refer to a past event. If -TA were used, it would indicate that the speaker perceives the situation to be remote, but if -RU/U were used, it would mean that the past situation is perceived as if it were directly before the speaker. -TA suggests a detached, objective attitude on the part of the speaker toward the situation, but -RU/U suggests the speaker’s subjective and psychological involvement with the situation.

When both -RU/U and -TA are present together, the -RU/U event/state must either be clearly completed/established before the -TA event/state. For instance, in Ex. 67, Mr. Hirota had good-looking teeth before ever showing them when he smiled. Ex. 67 also demonstrates how this facet of the -RU/U form also affects choosing between -TE IRU and -TE ITA. The latter would show definitive completion of a once ongoing event, which is not logical to posit in Ex. 67.

66. ひどいことをうね。
What a horrible thing to say.

67. 山田やまださんはしてわらった。わり綺麗きれいっている。
Mr. Hirota smiled showing his teeth. He had rather good-looking teeth.

68. 女房にょうぼうがどうしても結婚けっこんしてほしいっていてたのむから、仕方しかたなく結婚けっこんしてやったんだよ。
My wife had cried and begged that I marry her, and so I reluctantly did.  

69. たまごがないと文句もんくうから、もう一回いっかいいにったの。
You complained about there being no eggs, so I went out again to go buy some. 

70. なみだもないことをうから、バチがたったんだ。
You got what you deserved for saying something so heartless.